Chief: 250-275 ‘certified’ gang members in Sonoma Valley

John Capone (Sonoma News) | May 27, 2013

Sonoma Police Chief Bret Sackett elicited near gasps from an audience of community and business leaders May 22, when he told them there are between 250-and-275 “certified” gang members in the Sonoma Valley.

Sackett, the featured speaker at the first of Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Stakeholder Series of talks last week, addressed the crowd, including city council members, staff and local business owners, about the persistent gang problem in the community.

He called the 250 to 275 figure, just the tip of the iceberg. “There are many more associates,” Sackett said. He estimated the bulk of those active in gangs in the Valley were 15-to-16-years-old up to about 24 years of age. For a gang member to be certified requires a process whereby the court has identified the individual as a gang member through a variety of criteria. Such a designation means that the individual would get so-called “gang enhancement” time and penalties added to any sentences for crimes they are found guilty of in the future.

“We need to recognize that there is a gang presence in the Valley,” said Sackett. “We probably don’t have enough time and resources and energy to change the course of that.”

He called upon the community at large to marshal its resources to stop gang membership where it starts – with young and impressionable at-risk youth.

Crime in the Valley, generally, is down. There has been a 16 percent reduction in violent crimes overall and a 13 percent reduction in property crimes. But the gang presence remains troubling.

There are numerous types of gangs in Sonoma Valley, according to Sackett. There are outlaw motorcycle gangs, Asian gangs and others, but by far the most participants are members of the norteños or sureño gangs, with direct ties back to prison gangs. Norteños are associated with red, their counterpart sureños wear blue.

The norteño and sureño gangs are predominantly Hispanic, according to Sackett, but certainly not exclusively. “The great thing about gangs is they don’t discriminate,” said Sackett. “They want to get their numbers up, so they don’t care what race you are, they just want you to proclaim allegiance to their particular gang.”

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